Politics and the People: Youth Lead the Way
Today, much of the globalized world seems to be undergoing a political shift with contentious and polarized politics becoming the norm. The populist far-right movement is intensifying, politicians have yet to adequately address climate change, the horrific legacies of colonialism continue to persist and exacerbate harm, and capitalism and the world’s industrial-based systems have become so entrenched it seems as though sustainable economic systems are impossible. The media pushes fear on us every waking second and in the face of the many issues facing humanity today, one may feel helpless.
Yet, something exceptional is happening. People are rising in collectivity, and many are understanding that change is needed and inevitable. At the forefront of these mass movements of the world today are youth. The global youth movement is gaining momentum.
Protests and mass civil movements are not a recent phenomenon. The Civil Rights movement, Tiananmen square, and the Arab Spring are all impactful movements in history that called for massive political change. Politics and the people have been quarreling incessantly throughout history, particularly where there has been the tension of trying to balance the needs of the universal and the particular as well as temptations of wealth and power. Today’s youth are realizing large and essential actions are needed to protect the rights of people and the world - they know and understand the hard truths that adults and politicians turn their backs on and hide behind empty words. Youth are raising their voices because they see the necessity for change and understand the world of consequences the next generation will have to live in if not for immense affirmative action.
Autumn Peltier, Emma González, Greta Thunberg, and Mary Copeny are all names heard in the news recently. All are youth activists making incredible statements to the world. Autumn Peltier is Anishinaabe-kwe, a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation, and a water activist. She raises awareness about the importance of clean water and its sacredness. She confronted Justin Trudeau about his “broken promises” and most recently given a speech at the United Nations (The Canadian Press). Emma González is a gun control activist who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting and co-founded the gun control advocacy group Never Again. González has spoken at a gun control rally and gave a powerful speech at the March for Our Lives movement (Atler). Greta Thunberg is a 16-year old Swedish climate activist who started the Fridays for Future movement. She began by striking in front of the Parliament buildings every Friday to call for stronger policy and action to halt climate change (Woodward). Mary Copeny wrote a letter to President Obama about the water crisis in Flint Michigan which started the movement Dear Flint Kids (Rodriguez). All of these young people have made individually impactful statements but have also inspired mass movements ranging from thousands to millions of followers of all ages. These individual stories of activism and action are only bolstered when we see the mass number of individual youth gathering together globally to fight for political rights and change.
March for Our Lives is a student led movement on gun control calling for the implementation of a bold policy to end gun violence. After the deaths of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School - this being the 8th mass school shooting in a year - students took to the streets to demand that comprehensive legislation be passed to prevent any more deaths (March for Our Lives). Stoneman Douglas survivor Kasky said, "we are losing our lives while the adults are playing around” (McLaughlin). The youth of the United States are fighting for their lives through this movement.
In January 2018, 40 million adults and children took to the streets in India to form a long human chain to protest against child marriage. Youth in India also took to the streets to march in a global March Against Child Labour (Brown, Gordon, et al.). In Nigeria, a group of youth advocates marched in 2015 demanding safe schools alongside proper policy and army protection in the wake of the Boko Haram attacks. In Bangladesh, there has been a movement to create “child-marriage-free” zones. Youth are fighting for their freedom in many ways (Brown, Gordon, et al.).
In Hong Kong, protests have been evolving recently as students try to protect their rights. It started with a loophole in legislation between Hong Kong and the Chinese state that allowed extradition to China. This sparked a movement where students are fighting for their freedom against the Chinese government who is looking to close in on Hong Kong’s previous democratic and separate governance structure. Students have been occupying streets, major thoroughfares, and even the airport in order to demand and protect their freedom rights (Mahtani; McLaughlin). Hong Kong youth are unified and rising.
Most recently in Montreal, the Fridays for Future climate march brought more than 500 000 people to the city center to strike in order to call on the government to enact more thorough, serious, and impactful policies in the face of climate change. Greta Thunberg spoke alongside Indigenous youth and Canadian climate activists at the end of the rally. This movement has been spreading around the world, with an unprecedented amount of people turning up to march and urge governments to take the necessary action in order to set a limit of 1.5°C in the rising of global average temperatures (CBC, 2019). Youth are demanding action to fight this massive crisis. At the recent U.N. climate summit, Greta Thunberg, while speaking about the youth movement, said, “we showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable" (CBC, 2019).
Demonstrated by these examples, youth around the world are rising. Just because children are younger does not mean they are any less wise. In reality, youth may be the only ones who understand the raw truth of contentious, politicized, and polarized matters. They may be the only ones who see what needs to be done within and outside the political sphere in order to change our world for the better.
Brown, Gordon, et al. “The Global Youth Movement Is Gaining Momentum.” World Economic Forum, 5 Apr. 2011, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/the-new-global-youth-movement.
“How Montreal's Climate Strike Stacks up against Major Protests of the Past | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 27 Sept. 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-protest-history-archive-photos-1.5298928.
Mahtani, Shibani, and Timothy McLaughlin. “The Evolution of Hong Kong's Protests.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Sept. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/09/27/evolution-hong-kongs-protests/.
“March For Our Lives.” March For Our Lives, https://marchforourlives.com/.
Alter, Charlotte. “How Parkland Teens Are Leading the Gun Control Conversation.” Time, Time, 22 Mar. 2018, https://time.com/longform/never-again-movement/.
McLaughlin, Eliott C. “Parkland Students Say, 'We Are Going to Be the Last Mass Shooting'.” CNN, Cable News Network, 18 Feb. 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/18/us/florida-school-shooting-updates/index.html.
Rodriguez, Victoria. “The Youth Activists Who Proved Critics Wrong in 2018.” Mashable, Mashable, 18 Dec. 2018, https://mashable.com/article/youth-teen-activists-2018/.
The Canadian Press, “'We Can't Eat Money or Drink Oil,' Autumn Peltier Tells UN | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 28 Sept. 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/canadian-indigenous-water-activist-autumn-peltier-addresses-un-on-clean-water-1.5301559.
Woodward, Aylin. “How 16-Year-Old Greta Thunberg Became the Face of Climate-Change Activism.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 24 Sept. 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/greta-thunberg-bio-climate-change-activist-2019-9.